Right from the start I want to tell you that I dislike the title for this post. Yes, I crafted the title. It rhymes and it is provocative. But it also lacks understanding and compassion. There are reasons that many people turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, food or maybe just checking out in front of the TV or computer. Sometimes life feels too overwhelming to handle.
The message that seems to be prevalent, particularly in song lyrics, is that escape is better than reality. Tears well up in my eyes each time I hear the song “Habits” by Tove Lo. Here is just the chorus:
You’re gone and I gotta stay
High all the time
To keep you off my mind
High all the time
To keep you off my mind
Spend my days locked in a haze
Trying to forget you babe
I fall back down
Gotta stay high all my life
To forget I’m missing you
Another title I considered was Doping is NOT Coping because essentially what I hope to convey in this post is a message about healthy coping skills. I understand the desire to numb. Life comes with some serious struggles and heartbreaks. For many, tragedies come at early ages and seem to keep on coming. I get it. Sometimes it seems like the only way to cope is to just get relief by checking out.
If you’ve done that for any length of time you know that it doesn’t work very well. Just like the writer of that song says when the haze wears off “I fall back down”. Yes, numbing offers short term relief that comes fast – that’s what makes the lure of escape so enticing. However, tomorrow those pains and struggles still exist and you find yourself no better off in managing them… and perhaps much worse.
Ideally, during the adolescent and young adult years young men and women are learning the skills they need to do life. They suffer heartbreak and they learn how quickly to give their heart away or what characteristics to look for in a mate. They get yelled at or fired by their boss at work and they learn what is expected from them in their job duties and make adjustments. Their boss may be irrational or inconsiderate but they learn emotional and relational skills for working with difficult people. They cut class and skip schoolwork and then struggle to bring their grades back up to an acceptable level. They fail, learn and re-group. Each setback prepares them for the next challenges of life. Combine this with a handful of healthy adult mentors at their side and the person has a clear, productive picture to strive towards. Each step of the way they are learning what it takes to succeed in love and life and they begin to make choices that reflect the type of person they want to become.
This typically works well for the emerging adult unless they encounter tragedies that overwhelm their developmental ability to regroup or they turn to numbing strategies. We cannot control the tragedies that may come our way but we can choose how we will deal with them.
A good friend of mine suffered some heartbreaking losses just as we were reaching our adult years. I remember her telling me that she was proud that she was able to suffer through that traumatic time without turning to drugs or alcohol. I didn’t fully understand then how challenging the tragedies, how painful the loss or how difficult the struggle to regain her footing must have been for her.
Decades later we are still close and I can say that I am extremely grateful that she had confidence in her own resiliency and competency. She had confidence even in those darkest days that she could survive and would emerge from that time a different person but somehow stronger. But she wasn’t walking alone. During those darkest days she pulled closer to her God and to supportive people. Today, she remains one of my closest friends and a woman that I greatly admire.
If you are in or approaching your young adult years I encourage you to choose to grasp on to your competency and resiliency, rather than giving in to the illusion of escape that drugs, marijuana, alcohol, illicit sex and other forms of disconnection offer. If you have been knocked down by tragedy I hope you find the strength to connect with others as you heal and begin to walk through how to write the next chapters of your life. If you are well into your adult years and you are realizing that numbing strategies have not lead you down the path that you were hoping, know that it’s never too late to give yourself what you didn’t get growing up. That old saying is wrong – you can teach an old dog new tricks. Live well my friends!